Zsadist's shitkickers carried him through an alley off Trade Street, the heavy soles stomping apart frozen slush puddles and crushing through the icy ripples of tire treads. It was pitch-dark, because there were no windows in the brick buildings on either side of him and the clouds had shut out the moon. Yet as he walked alone, his night vision was perfect, penetrating everything. Just like his rage.
Black blood. What he needed was more black blood. He needed it on his hands and kicking up into his face and splattering onto his clothes. He needed oceans of it to run onto the ground and seep into the earth. To honor Bella's memory, he would make the slayers bleed, each death his offering to her.
He knew she no longer lived, knew in his heart she must have been killed in a gruesome way. So why did he always start off asking those bastards where she was? Hell, he didn't know. It was just the first thing that came out of his mouth, no matter how many times he told himself she was gone.
And he was going to keep asking those fuckers questions. He wanted to know the where and how and with what they'd gotten her. The information would only eat at him, but he needed to know. Had to know. And one of them was going to talk eventually.
Z stopped. Sniffed the air. Prayed for the sweet smell of baby powder to drift into his nose. Goddamn it, he couldn't stand this… not knowing any longer.
But then he laughed in a nasty crack. Yeah, the hell he couldn't take it. Thanks to his hundred years of careful training with the Mistress, there was no level of shit he hadn't survived. Physical pain, mental anguish, cringing depths of humiliation and degradation, hopelessness, helplessness: Been there, sweated that.
So he could survive this.
He looked up at the sky, and as his head shifted back he swayed. With a quick hand he steadied himself against a Dumpster, then took a deep breath and waited to see if the drunken sensation passed. No luck.
Feeding time. Again.
Cursing, he hoped he could squeeze out another night or two. Sure, he'd been dragging his body around by force of will the last couple of weeks, but that was nothing unusual. And tonight he just didn't want to deal with the bloodlust.
Come on, come on… focus, asshole.
He forced himself to keep going, stalking the downtown alleys, weaving in and out of the dangerous urban maze of Caldwell, New York's club and drug scene.
By three A.M., he was so blood-hungry he felt stoned, and that was the only reason he gave in. He couldn't stomach the disassociation, the numbness in his body. It reminded him too much of the opium stupors he'd been forced into as a blood slave.
Walking as quickly as he could, he headed for ZeroSum, the Brotherhood's current downtown hangout. The bouncers let him bypass the wait line, easy access being one of the perks of folks who dropped the kind of cash the Brothers did. Hell, Phury's red smoke habit alone was worth a couple grand a month, and V and Butch only liked the buzz that came from top-shelf booze. Then there were Z's own regular purchases.
The club was hot and dark inside, a kind of humid, tropical cave with techno music twirling in the air. Humans crowded the dance floor, sucking on lollipop rings, guzzling water, sweating while they moved with pulsing pastel lasers.
All around, bodies were up against the walls, paired off or in triplicate, writhing, touching.
Z headed for the VIP lounge, and the human horde gave way before him, parting like velvet cloth torn open. Though high on X and coke, those overheated bodies still had enough survival instinct to spot him as a coffin waiting to happen.
In the way back, a bouncer with a buzz cut let him into the best real estate in the club. Here, in relative quiet, twenty tables with banquet seating were spaced far apart, with only the black marble tops spotlit from the ceiling. The Brotherhood's booth was right by the fire exit, and he wasn't surprised to see Vishous and Butch there with shot glasses in front of them. Phury's martini glass was sitting all alone.
The two roommates didn't look glad to see him. No… they seemed resigned to his arrival, like they'd been hoping to take a load off and he'd just thrown them both an engine block.
"Where is he?" Z asked, nodding at his twin's martini.
"Making a red smoke buy in the back," Butch said. "Ran out of O-Zs."
Z sat down on the left and leaned back, taking himself out of the light falling on the glossy table. As he glanced around, he recognized the faces of meaningless strangers. The VIP section had a hardcore of regulars, but none of the big spenders interacted much beyond their tight groups. In fact, the whole club was permeated by a "don't ask, don't tell" vibe, which was one of the reasons the Brothers came here. Even though ZeroSum was owned by a vampire, they needed to keep a low profile about who they were.
Over the last century or so, the Black Dagger Brotherhood had become secretive about their identities within the race. There were rumors, of course, and civilians knew a few of their names, but everything was kept on the QT. The subterfuge had started when the race had fragmented about a century ago and tragically, trust had become an issue within the species. But now, though, there was another reason. The lessers were torturing civilians for information on the Brotherhood, so it was imperative to keep on the down-low.
As a result, the few vampires who worked this club weren't sure the big males in leather who sucked back drinks and dropped bills were Black Dagger members. And fortunately, social custom, if not the way the Brothers looked, prevented questions.
Zsadist shifted in the booth, impatient. He hated the club; he really did. Hated having so many bodies so close to his. Hated the noise. The smells.
In a chatty tangle, a trio of human females approached the Brothers' table. The three of them were working tonight, though what they were serving up didn't fit in a glass. These were your typical high-class hookers: hair extensions, fake breasts, faces molded by plastic surgeons, clothes out of a spray can. There were a lot of their kind of movable feast in the club, particularly in the VIP section. The Reverend, who owned and ran ZeroSum, believed in product diversification as a business strategy, offering their bodies as well as the alcohol and the drugs. The vampire also loaned money and had a team of bookies and did God knew what else from his back office in service to his mostly human clientele.
As the three prostitutes smiled and talked, they presented themselves for a buy. But none of them were what Z was looking for, and V and Butch didn't pick them up either. Two minutes later, the women headed off to the next booth.
Z was goddamned hungry, but he had one nonnegotiable when it came to feeding.
"Hey, daddies," another woman said. "Any of you looking for some company?"
He glanced up. This human female had a hard face to match her hard body. Clothes were black leather. Eyes were glassy. Hair was short.
Z put his hand into the pool of light on the table, lifted two fingers, then rapped twice on the marble with his knuckles. As Butch and V started shifting in the seat, their tension annoyed him.
The female smiled. "Well, all right."
Zsadist leaned forward and uncoiled to his full height, his face becoming illuminated by the spotlight. The whore's expression froze solid as she took a step back.
At that moment Phury came out of a door to the left, his spectacular mane of hair reflecting the shifting lights. Right behind him was a hard-ass male vampire with a mohawk: the Reverend.
As the two came up to the table, the owner of the club smiled tightly. Eyes the color of amethysts missed nothing about the prostitute's hesitation. "Evening, gentlemen. You going somewhere, Lisa?"
Lisa's bravado came back with a vengeance. "Wherever he wants, boss."
Enough with the yakkies, Z thought. "Outside. Now."
He pushed open the fire door and followed her into the alley behind the club. The December wind blew through the loose jacket he'd put on to cover his weapons, but he didn't care about the cold, and neither did Lisa. Even though the icy gusts teased her cropped hair and she was close to naked, she faced him without shivering, chin up.
Now that she'd committed herself, she was ready for him. A real professional.
"We do it here," he said, stepping into the shadows. He took two one-hundred-dollar bills from his pocket and held them out. Her fingers crushed them before she disappeared the cash into her leather skirt.
"How do you want it?" she asked, sidling up to him, reaching for his shoulders.
He spun her around to the brick wall, face-first. "I do the touching. Not you."
Her body tensed and her fear tingled in his nose, a sulfurous sting. But her voice was strong. "Watch it, asshole. I come back with bruises and he'll hunt you down like an animal."
"Don't worry. You're going to walk away from this just fine."
But she was still scared. And he was blessedly numb to the emotion.
Usually fright in a female was the only thing that could turn him on, the only way the it in his pants would get hard. Lately, though, the trigger wasn't working, which was just fine with him. He despised the response of that thing behind his zipper, and because most females were scared shitless of him, the it got aroused a hell of a lot more often than he wanted. Not at all would have been better. Shit, he was probably the only male on the planet who wanted to be impotent.
"Tilt your head to the side," he said. "Ear to your shoulder."
Slowly she complied, exposing her neck to him. This was why he'd chosen her. Short hair meant he wouldn't have to touch anything to clear his way. He hated having to put his hands on them anywhere.
As he stared at her throat, his thirst rose and his fangs elongated. God, he was dry enough to drain her.
"What are you going to do?" she snapped. "Bite me?"
He struck quickly and held her in place as she thrashed. To make it easier on her, he calmed her with his mind, relaxing her, giving her a kind of high she was no doubt very familiar with. While she settled down, he swallowed as much as he could without gagging, tasting the coke and alcohol in her blood as well as the antibiotics she was on.
When he was finished, he licked the puncture marks so the healing process would get its groove on and she wouldn't bleed out. Then he popped her collar to hide the bite, cleaned himself from her memory, and sent her back into the club.
Alone again, he sagged against the bricks. Human blood was so weak, it barely got him what he needed, but he wasn't about to drink from females of his own species. Not again. Ever.
He looked up at the sky. The clouds that had brought the flurries earlier were gone, and between the buildings he could see a slice of the clear pincushion of stars. The constellations told him he had only two hours left to be out.
When he had the strength, he closed his eyes and dematerialized to the only place he wanted to be.
Thank God there was still enough time to go there. To be there.